DavidCandler School of Theology at Emory University positions students for academic success. As a Candler student, you have access to all Emory has to offer. From the world-class Pitts Theology Library to the world-renowned Center for the Study of Law and Religion, there are always conferences, lectures, events, resources, and academic support for students who take the life of the mind seriously and those who hope to pursue further academic work after seminary.

During an organization fair while on a campus visit prior to enrolling at Candler, I met Silas Allard. Silas, a graduate of Emory’s joint MTS/JD program, is now on campus as the associate director at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion. We quickly connected over our mutual interest in immigration policy and refugee services. Silas encouraged me to follow back up with him once I arrived in Atlanta to start at Candler. I took him up on that offer and he has generously served as a kind of academic mentor to me throughout my time at Candler.

When I saw his email encouraging me to submit an abstract for a student conference on forced migration studies in Toronto at York University’s Center for Refugee Studies, I knew it was something I wanted to try. Dr. Ellen Ott Marshall had recently allowed me to participate in a PhD seminar on “Questions of War.” In that course, we read an article by Dr. Shelly Rambo that explored pastoral responses to contemporary challenges posed by new forms of warfare. In her article, she proposed the “aesthetic angle” as an important way for pastors to be able to engage veterans.

Rambo’s description of this “aesthetic angle” fascinated me and I knew that this conference could be my chance to further explore the idea. My previous work in refugee services made me especially interested in how “the aesthetic angle” might function in the context of refugee resettlement and the local communities receiving immigrants who have been displaced by war. I proposed using a Talking Heads concert film performance of a song called “Life During Wartime” to engage the contemporary discourse surrounding forced migration.

After a few drafts, I sent what I thought would be a finished product to Silas for feedback before submitting it. I am glad I did. Silas worked with me to help reframe the proposal to better demonstrate the importance of the ideas and the significance of the project. With his guidance, my proposal was accepted.

After repeating this process with a full version of the paper, I was ready to fly to Toronto. But I was worried about how to pay for the trip. This was an international flight and would be a full weekend of meals and housing. Candler’s Office of Student Programming was a huge help in this respect. After speaking with Assistant Dean of Student Life and Spiritual Formation Ellen Purdum, I was able to apply for Leadership Development Funds to cover my housing and meals. While this small grant didn’t cover all my expenses, it was a significant support as I tried my hand at my first academic conference.

Since first arriving at Candler, I have been challenged, encouraged, and supported academically. Through the Leadership Development Fund my first semester, I was able to attend the American Academy of Religion annual conference in Atlanta. This exposure to the world of academia and the exciting exchange of ideas peaked my interest. During my second semester, a Candler student-run conference called the Sophia Forum introduced me to the format and presentation skills necessary for a conference. Then, mentorship and support from across Emory’s campus allowed me an opportunity to participate firsthand in the international academic conference on refugee studies in Toronto. Although some of the attendees at the conference may have been somewhat surprised that a theology student was among the presenters, I hope I was able to demonstrate that theologians and seminarians can actually offer crucial contributions to important social conversations.

Candler is a great place for exposure to a broad range of ideas, for interdisciplinary collaboration that goes deeper than the surface, and for academic support that enhances one’s abilities to read, think, write, and articulate meaningful insights. This is true not only in settings of church and world, but also the distinctive spheres of academic research and publishing. This is something to celebrate, to promote, and to continue to steward for future students and scholars.

Top photo: David's picture of the Toronto skyline.